Friday, July 26, 2019

I Get Complaints

My next newspaper column:
Oh, the letters expressing dismay at my writing. They’re right, of course. In the twilight of my life, I’ve devolved from a surgeon who received high praise and produced (mostly) excellent results, to a curmudgeon micturating into the wind. (I’d suggest a certain disapproving but admirably centenarian teacher recall the words Mark Anthony delivered prior to those about which she did figuratively ope her ruby lips, however.) (A local reference to a recent letter.)  
But this is beyond “Get off my lawn.” I see bulldozers, plants being uprooted, defoliants poured on the greenery. Ugly specters leer in the windows, dripping gas and lighting matches, threatening my grandchildren. Not just an old flatulent, though I am that, I’m calling for help from my neighbors. You’re next, even if you don’t see it, I cry. Help us, I shout, in frustration, fear, and exasperation. Help us all, even if you figure, hey, it’s not my house. It will be.  
If the destruction kept escalating, while your neighbors stood mute, would you go gentle into that good night? Not me. I’m shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, only it’s not a prank. Flames are everywhere. As are mixed metaphors.  
Those who consider my writing baseless, hate-filled invective are untroubled by Trump’s rhetoric. Not when he says Democrats “want to destroy you.” Not when he says four Congresswomen “hate America,” while lying about what they’ve said. Or when he calls opponents names that would embarrass a five-year-old for lack of originality. Even when he claims “the right to do whatever I want as president.” Every American should find that one horrifying.  
Nor do they object when he eliminates regulations designed to protect them and their progeny from drinking poisoned water, breathing befouled air, getting a subpar education, being trapped in poverty, hungry and desperate. Or when he brings incompetent swamp-dwellers into his Cabinet. Runs up trillion-dollar deficits. (His latest budget proposal is even worse.) You’d think they’d appreciate someone sounding alarums. If they didn’t believe you, would you walk away? I tried that, once.  
Belaying the bombast makes no difference. Those in the thrall of Trump’s vindictiveness and attacks on constitutional governance, and politicians like Lindsey Graham, who act as if they fear Godfather-like reprisals, ignore the dangers beneath the surface of their approval. Wednesday, unable to dispute facts to appease their Mafia don, disgracing themselves and America, Republicans attacked Robert Mueller, all but approving Russia’s acts of war. 
It’s convenient to dismiss my criticism, or anyone’s, as “hate-filled invective.” It rationalizes ignoring the reasons behind heartfelt and, yes, patriotic concerns. When toned down, the facts to which I refer are still called lies. Arguments are still rejected reflexively as a hammered knee, calling me a communist. Which is as far from reality as Trump’s views on climate change.  
After his eagerly-enraged crowd chanted “Send her back,” Trump lied that he tried to stop it, lied that he didn’t approve, then spent days excreting praise. “Go back home” would have been run-of-the-mill, deplorable Trumpism. “Send her back,” though, means round her up and haul her away, an American citizen and elected Representative. Sound familiar? It does to me: having lost relatives in the Holocaust, it sounds like cattle-cars. In their derelict approval, Trump’s rally-goers are but a step or two behind the Kristallnacht rioters. What I feel is nausea, not hate. 
Malign clouds are approaching. Those who don’t see are deliberately looking away. Those who don’t hear the klaxons are fingering their ears. They who do see, who hear and enthuse, confirm how easily would-be dictators turn crowds, even here, into angry mobs, seeking formless, atavistic vengeance. It’s they who hate, need to hate, not me. And they won’t change. Only by being outvoted might they be made to crawl back under their rocks. Which is why they’re targeting free and fair voting.  
I receive more notes of approval than disgust. Still, I’d sleep better if I stopped paying attention. But what of my grandchildren and the future they face? Silence is surrender. 
Which is more harmful: agonal cries of a grandpa with an audience of tens in a tiny corner of the PNW, or the unrelenting promotion of fear, hate, division, and perpetual grievance, the autocratic ignoring of constitutional restraints, by a “president” who’d grab absolute power if he could? Not to mention those thrilled by the prospect, readying their pitchforks for the rounding-up. 
Invective? Nope. It’s a cri de cœur. Open your eyes. Read this.
[Image source]

Friday, July 19, 2019

Two Horrors

My next newspaper column. It's getting pretty damn depressing out there.
Recently I lost a friend because he thought I’d called all Trump supporters, including him, racist. In fact, I was calling on non-racist supporters to speak out against Trump’s deliberate manipulation of those he believes are racists. He was unconvinced. 
I wonder how he feels about Trump telling four Democratic Congresswomen of color, three of whom are American-born, the fourth a naturalized citizen, to go back to their “broken” countries. As Trump claims they’re “pro-terrorists,” feigns outrage that they say “vile” things and use the F-word in public, one concludes the White House mirrors are broken. 
If you defend Trump’s latest, it’s because he hates the people you hate. Because of you, he sees it as winning strategy, sees you as an easy mark. If that characterization offends, take a stand. Or stop pretending. 
Like the above-the-law dictator he imagines himself to be, Trump is attacking America itself, made great since its founding by disagreement and protest. It’s who we are. Except for Trump’s latest ralliers, chanting “Send her back.” To whom he listened, gloating. If, in your heart, you’re chanting with them, you have no idea what patriotism is nor what America is about; you make it clear it CAN happen here. 
But enough. Believe it or not, we’re facing something even worse than Trump: mass extinction. 
Commissioned by the UN, a summary of the results of a three-year study on the magnitude of the problem has just been published. Comprising the work of five-hundred scientists and referencing fifteen-hundred research papers, it covers a wide range of earthly perils. 
Driving Mercer Street to downtown Seattle lately, one comes to understand. In addition to traffic that allows three cars per stoplight on a good day, high-rise dwellings are sprouting like asparagus, block after crowded block, readying to house more people by the thousands. There are too damn many of us.  
“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” wrote the co-chair of the eighteen-hundred-page report. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
We’re bludgeoning our planet to a slow but certain death. As we heat it up to intolerable levels, deplete finite resources, cause the elimination of millions of species, we’re destroying the home whose complex ecosystems sustain us. And though it’s obvious what needs doing, it’s increasingly unlikely to happen, for humanity lacks the required collective wisdom, and America’s leadership is no more. Increasingly, we seem to be looking backward, wishfully, not ahead and clear-eyed. 
Around twenty-five-percen of plant and animal species are threatened, and an additional million are heading toward extinction. For those who don’t care about flora and fauna any more than they do about Trump’s anti-Americanism, the report catalogs the deadly threat to all humankind, including them. For those who do care, the summary can be found here
Climate change is a big part of it, but there’s more. We’ve lost eighty-five percent of the world’s wetlands. Two-thirds of ocean waters are stressed; half of the world’s coral reefs are dead. It’s happening hundreds of times faster than millions of years past. We’re clearcutting hundreds of millions of hectares of rainforest, gobbling up rapidly-diminishing, essential elements, as the world population has doubled since 1970. People are already fighting over food and water, fuel and land, to the tune of twenty-five-hundred conflicts currently ongoing. It’ll get worse.  
Topping the list of required changes are two all-but impossible actions: stopping population growth and decreasing consumption. These would entail entirely re-constituting the developed world, in which all economies are, to a greater or lesser extent, predicated on consumerism: increasing and housing customers, making newer and more irresistible products. 
Could we abide a less self-destructing economic model? Would we be willing to keep our current smartphones and outdated HDTVs? Not in the irreparably divided, conversation-averse, science-rejecting US, where our “president” has convinced half of us our biggest problem is immigration. 
Years ago, there was an experiment in which mice were challenged with dense overcrowding. Good news: they stopped reproducing. Bad news: they turned to cannibalism. Thanks to Trump’s self-serving provocations, we’re already tearing each other apart in a kind of verbal feeding frenzy. Trumpists are stockpiling weapons, and their food-stores won’t last forever. Are we better than rodents? 
If Trump’s rallies portend America’s future, the answer is no. Clearly, undeniably. No.
[Image sources]

Friday, July 12, 2019

Unjustices Of The Supreme Court

My upcoming newspaper column:
When the other party has the better hammer, what you do is steal all the nails. 
Credit Republicans: they play the long game. Realizing they could no longer enact their policies legitimately, because they create massive deficits, are unpopular with and/or do harm to non-wealthy, air-breathing, water-drinking, homeothermic, empathetic Americans, they set about preventing the majority from having electoral influence. Fair elections, and democracy itself, they came to understand, were inimical to their aims. This insight underlies everything they’ve done since, at the state level and nationally. 
It’s working. And, though it’s been evident for years, Democrats’ legendary inability to formulate a coherent message, and their penchant for shooting at the wrong targets, including each other, all but guaranteed Republicans’ success. Days ago, by a predictable 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court chose to allow egregious gerrymandering by Republican-led legislatures around the country, bringing the plan to fruition. 
Already enfeebled by prior 5-4 decisions, namely Citizens United and eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, democracy died that day; poisoned by people who figured they had plenty of time to pull it off, people who renounced what makes America great. Now firmly entrenched is rule by a minority determined to enrich the wealthy and do the bidding of polluters and other miscreants, disregarding the needs of most voters, in return for cash.  
A 5-4 court decision is a political one, by definition. The concept of dispassionate interpretation of the law, or, as John Roberts described it in his bravura nomination performance, “calling balls and strikes,” is fiction. Every Republican jurist has been selected with the endgame in mind. 
As they welcomed the contributions of Reagan’s hitman Lee Atwater, then Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and Roger Ailes, the Republican Party began abandoning democracy. Their goal: prevent the majority voice from being heard by whatever means necessary; when it can’t be done subtly, don’t bother pretending. Witness refusing to allow even a hearing for President Barack Obama’s choice of a universally-respected, highly-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court. Witness our Republican neighbors to the south, going into hiding to prevent a vote on a climate-change bill favored by a large majority of Oregonians (and threatening harm to state cops sent after them). Witness Mitch McConnell.  
Republicans may not have imagined, all those years ago, help from a global adversary in placing a “president” in office, but they’ll take it. To prove the point, demonstrating his disinterest in preserving our democratic republic, McConnell, an unashamed hypocrite more ruinous than Trump, refused to allow consideration of a bill passed by House Democrats aimed at preventing future foreign influence, and at securing voting machines. He’s done the same to all Democratic legislation, including those that would actually “drain the swamp.” Then taunts Democrats for accomplishing nothing.  
Elected Republicans are undermining every protection of ordinary citizens’ ability to influence public policy: truth, education, voting, journalism. Understanding tribalism and the gullibility it engenders, they demonize immigrants, LGBT and Americans of color. And, of course, liberals, making America’s founding genius, legislative compromise, anathema. How can you compromise with people who’d “destroy you”? 
To cement their perversion of original intent, Republicans established an unscrupulous propaganda network. Now, the internet affords even greater opportunities for fake news while claiming it’s the other side spreading it. Into this septic stream they dumped the lie that illegal voting was rampant, justifying laws crafted specifically to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters. They’ve admitted their purpose – bragged about it -- even as the premise was proved false. 
Having thus empowered themselves, they’ve taken gerrymandering to unprecedented levels, rendering Democratic voters powerless; sometimes, even, when they were in the majority. 
Fulfilling the promise of his appointment, Chief Justice Roberts says it’s none of the Court’s business. Really? If this isn’t, what is? America has a cherished tradition of states’ rights, but a crucial role of the federal judiciary is stepping in when states disregard Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of their citizens. Protecting equality of voting, you’d think, would be among the obligations of our highest court. Turns out, it’s not. 5-4. 
What would Honest Abe, between whose knees, on July 4, Trump produced a taxpayer-funded, campaign-ad-ready affair (the ad is already in circulation), think of what’s become of his party? Stolen court; dark money; voter suppression; cynical gerrymandering; presidential lies; devalued education; rejected science; politicizing the census; ignoring checks and balances. 
Game over. And Republicans are dancing in the endzone. 
[Image source]

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Fourth Of Trump

Saturday's newspaper column, today:
My reaction to Trump making himself central to our capitol’s annual Fourth of July celebration is what Trump supporters’ would have been, had President Barack Obama done the same. Lest anyone thought the Fourth of Trump was a celebration by and for all Americans, he provided special-access, front-row, VIP tickets for his swamp-dwellers. 
For seventy years, presidents had chosen not to insert themselves into America’s day. Not Trump; but at least he stuck to the teleprompter, reading words wrongly attributing America’s greatness almost entirely to its military strength, starting when the Continental Army took over airports. Nice words. No mention of Democrats wanting to “destroy you,” nor the press being our enemy.
Including presidential plane and other flyovers, and obtrusively parked, decommissioned tanks, citizens chipped in $2.5 million in Park Service funds intended for improving national parks, as Trump Commander-in-Chiefed a military presence, aping Moscow and Pyongyang. There, dear leaders beam as troops march by. He couldn’t conjure goose-stepping soldiers, but his intentions weren’t subtle. 
Which brings us to that made-for-TV step across a painted line onto North Korean concrete, including camera-ready posturing and Kim Jong-Un calling Trump “courageous” for doing it. The recidivist draft-dodger whose daddy bought him a pair of disappearing bone spurs fearlessly took some of the most heavily-guarded steps in human history. 
At Fox “news” the swooning was unrestrained, even as they admitted that, had Obama done it, they’d have been outraged. Kim, they’d have railed, is one of history’s worst mass murderers. Who but a naïve narcissist would accept his compliments and believe his promises? 
Trump’s self-celebration in D.C. and his one poke over the line at the DMZ are of a piece. The first shows his pathological need for adulation; the second underscores the danger to America in having such an emotionally destitute “leader.” All it took was Kim calling him brave, and denuclearization fell off the table as if pushed by a cat. 
As Trump flatters men more all-powerful than he to earn their praise, they exploit his neediness, giving him the kudos he craves, knowing he’ll mistake the disdainful manipulation for admiration. Doing so, they get away with murder. And nukes. And contracts to manufacture secret American military technology, and tariff-busting opportunities with China. 
Accompanying Trump to Korea was white-supremacist hero Tucker Carlson, invited after he’d shared his unique insight that to be a great leader you have to murder the occasional citizen. Just the way it is. Not a deal-breaker. (Flaming out elsewhere, Tucker found a welcoming home on Fox “news.”) But it’s true: Kim, Putin, and MBS are nothing if not murderers. Trump has yet to order a hit himself, far as we know, but the subset of his supporters who are murdering Americans in documented, increasing numbers, claim motivation by his words. Not to mention renegades (we hope) in his unleashed and energized Border Patrol, discovered mocking immigrant deaths and spreading racist memes online. His people. 
While Trump turns a deaf eye to homegrown terrorism, he jokes with his most-admired strongmen about their crimes. Laughs with Putin over “getting rid of journalists,” which Putin has, repeatedly. Reaffirms his “friendship” with MBS, chopper-up and disposer of same. Neither has logged the murderous numbers of Kim, though, which may be why Trump reserves particular love for him. Kim, however, as revealed by the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect in decades, has a less romantic attraction to Trump: He’s “not moral,” and “doesn’t judge.”  
Democracy’s protector, though he doesn’t understand the term “Western liberalism,” Trump also traded laughs with Putin about meddling in our electoral process, which he’d previously announced he’d happily accept again. Obey American law? “That’s not how the world works,” he said. Aloud. On TV. The “president” of the United States says following our laws isn’t how things work. Not in his career of cheating his way out of his business failures, not now. Un-hyphen-believable. (Resisting the more colorful tmesis.) 
Paraphrasing a diagnosis invented by the late Charles Krauthammer, Trump’s Fifth-Avenue-firing-range boosters dismiss his critics as suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” We who point out and warn of the obvious are blinded by hate, according to Trumpists. But the truly blinded are they who can’t see the ease with which Trump’s narcissism is being exploited by the despots he emulates. 
The authentic Trump Derangement Syndrome causes people to look at his record of capitulations to dictators and neither recognize nor understand the peril in which Trump’s personal pathology places our country, abroad and at home.
[Image source]

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